"Animal farm" is to this day one of the best attempts to criticize a totalitarian regime through the means that literature provides: the power of words. George Orwell (1903- 1950) wanted to help others to realize things that for him were evident, and attempted to do so by writing a fable that can easily be read as a satire of the Russian Revolution. Orwell said in an article that "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows".
Orwell also pointed out that "Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole". He succeded beyond his wildest expectations, even though at first nobody wanted to publish this work because it was too controversial.
The plot of this book is relatively easy to grasp, and I think that is probably one of the reasons why it is so popular. Some animals decide to take over the conduction of a farm, because they believe there is too much injustice, and that they would improve the situation if they had the power to do so. They make a revolution, and end up evicting Mr. Jones, the owner of the farm. From that moment onwards, the farm is called "Animal farm"...
The animals establish seven "commandments", that they are supposed to obey at all moments in the new "Animal farm": 1- Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy, 2 - Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend, 3- No animal shall wear clothes, 4 - No animal shall sleep in a bed , 5 -No animal shall drink alcohol, 6 - No animal shall kill another animal , 7- All animals are created equal. At the same time, all commandments can be comprised in a maxim: "Four legs good, two legs bad".
Everything seems all right for sometime, and all the animals work together for the success of the revolution, obeying the commandments and striving for a new order of things. However, after a while the pigs begin to think that being part of the animal revolution is not enough: they want to dominate it. After that first realization things take a quick turn for the worse, and we cease to be in the presence of a "wannabe utopical society", having instead to be unwilling witnesses to the birth of a new totalitarian society.
At that moment, the pigs even change some of the commandments. For example, the fourth commandment turns into "No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets", and the sixth commandment says "No animal shall kill another animal without cause". Now, the commandments can be reduced to "Four legs good, two legs better". Finally, all the commandments will be replaced with one: "All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others".
All in all, I consider "Animal farm" extremely interesting, even though it is somewhat sad and pessimistic. The language is clear, and you won't find yourself wondering what the author meant by a phrase, or needing to read a paragraph again. From my point of view, that makes the reading process even more enjoyable.
Despite that, I believe that this book will be considerably more appreciated by those with some basic knowledge regarding the Russian Revolution. Only then will the reader be able to take full advantage of what this short fable can offer him, due to the fact that he will realize without too much effort that some of the fictional characters in "Animal Farm" were inspired by historical characters. For example, Napoleon (one of the pigs) was quite possibly inspired by Stalin, and Snowball (another pig) by Trosky. When you read this book, try to find the characters that represent the proletariat, the Communist Party, the intellectuals, etc... :)
On the whole, I regard this book as one of those you just need to read, but that fortunately you can also enjoy. The messages implicit in "Animal farm" are many, and the questions it makes you pose yourself are even more. But then, what better than a book that makes you THINK ?.